Over and over, I have had the conversation with masters women about being a competitor and/or being competitive, and there seems to be a separation between the women that are comfortable with owning that identity and those women that are not.
I've stood in front of large groups of masters women (50 or more) and asked two questions:
1. How many of you consider yourselves athletes?
2. How many of you consider yourselves competitors?
What's interesting is that for the first question generally a good 80-90% of the 50 or more women will raise their hands.
For the second question that percentage usually drops down to about 40-50%.
And when I ask why, the response is "Oh, I'm just not a competitive person." Or "I don't like being competitive."
Yes, There are absolutely masters women who row who have no interest in competing. Excellent, brilliant, all good.
My challenge to that is this, for many of the women that responded with the "Oh, I'm just not a competitive person.", or, "I don't like being competitive.", it's about the perception of what being competitive is that they don't like the feeling of. This perception is based on how women over 40 (generally, but of course not all) were socialized to compete as young girls.
When I scratch the surface with "non-competitive" women about their response to the question, they tend to associate being competitive with being caddy, a mean girl, back-biting, gossipy, a subterranean-behind-your-back type of experience.
So the thought of being competitive leaves a bad taste in their mouths and doesn't feel particularly fun. I get that.
But what I say to those women, or to you if you are one of those women, is that this is not a healthy version of competition. Your experience of being a competitor can be so incredibly rewarding, that I strongly recommend examining and exploring how to reframe your experience of being competitive, and embrace your inherent competitive nature.
YES! You are a competitor. You are a human being who has a genetic history of being competitive. Humans do not survive without being competitive. Many times I will ask these groups of masters women, do you compete for a parking place? Do you compete for a good line in the grocery store? Did you compete for your job or to get into University? Absolutely. So you already are a competitor by nature.
Let's consider the difference between two men competing v. two women.
The men will challenge each other to let's say a 2K erg, and will proclaim that they are better than the other, can go faster further, and will throw down the gauntlet to test themselves against one another. They hop on the erg, pull their piece, one beats the other, the other acknowledges this, and they go back to being best buds.
Women are more invested in maintaining their relationships between one another than needing to demonstrate competitive prowess. Going back to the development of unhealthy competition as a young woman, the fear/concern/worry is that the competitive woman will end up being that caddy, mean girl. So, if you believe that competing against one of your teammates is going to upset the apple cart of friendship and team cohesion, you are much less likely to feel comfortable competing and identifying as a competitor.
So how does one reframe the concept of competition and being a competitor in a new way? A way that feels exciting, new and different, challenging in a way that serves your growth as a rower? Notice I italicized "against" in the previous paragraph?
Because it's about competing WITH your teammates and not AGAINST them. It's about creating a competitive team environment that feeds the need for connection between women while also pushing each other in a healthy, encouraging, and growth focused way to accomplish more than you could've accomplished as an individual.
How does a coach or a group of athletes do this?
Stay tuned for part 2.
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Row hard, row well, compete, have fun!